As can be inferred by the title, this is another brick in the wall of tomes recounting punk’s hydra head history. I can almost hear the collective groan coming from bald and spiky-headed readers across the planet, but fuck ‘em, I think the way things are rolling out—many voices from many different places, like punk itself—is just as it should be. So many unique eras, pockets, and sub-pockets of talent and characters have made their mark on a patchwork quilt of scenes that the catch-all “history” that rock journalists and assorted academic nose wavers strive to force down our throats is all but impossible. As I’ve said before, one can’t rely on rock’s traditional “importance” markers to assess a scene that disdains everything those markers measure. Admittedly, the quality of many of these historical accounts can vary wildly, but when one pops up written by an insider who knows how to sling a keyboard, the results can be quite impressive.
Such is the case with this book. Writer Mark Sten’s own history is deeply embedded in that of his subject matter, having been a musician and founding member of the Revenge collective that set the tone for Portland’s wildly independent, creative, and resilient scene. Sten’s take on the scene’s history unravels more like a memoir than straitlaced history, peppering its traditional timeline format with personal anecdotes, snarky comments, and heapings of the sarcastic wit that made punk’s early waves so goddamned funny. This angle can be more than a bit dicey, but he’s more than familiar with the subject and has a great voice, one that engages the reader more in a conversation than a lesson, still piling in all the info scholars drool over without all the stuffy academic bullshit verbiage.
With its coffee-table size and three-hundred-plus page length, it’s a decidedly heady read. I’m also sure that Sten’s old school punk sarcasm will likely result in whole sections sending various “trigger generation” readers into one tailspin after another. Yet, even casual perusers will find much to suck them in—especially those with a yen to learn more about the scene’s varied denizens—including the Wipers, King Bee, Sado-Nation, Dead Moon, Neo-Boys, Smegma, Rancid Vat, and Poison Idea. It’s chock full of pictures, flyers, illustrations, and highlighted sub-conversations so that many aspects of a scene usually left out of the conversation get some attention. Hats off to ye Sten, this is a fine read from beginning to end. –Jimmy Alvarado (Reptilicus Press c/o Mark Sten, 215 SE 13th Ave., Portland, OR 97214, reptilicususa.com)